Me and Nep Nep go way back. No seriously, Hyperdimension Neptunia has been a thing as long as I’ve been a writer in the games industry. And for the most part I’ve followed those games, sometimes from legitimate interest, sometimes bemusement and sometimes happenstance. I have a specific reaction to the words “Compile Heart,” which isn’t a bad thing!
Regardless, when I learned about Neptunia Virtual Stars, I was immediately interested. First of all, the concept seemed prevalent. The original Hyperdimension Neptunia was a very sincere pisstake on the videogames industry of its era, and subsequent games didn’t always seem aimed at that mark. But a game based around the concept of Vtubers? That’s absolutely a topic of the moment, as well as an adjacent but totally new space for the Neptunia writers to play around with.
Neptunia Virtual Stars Review
And sure enough, I was laughing right away. In a world parallel to Neptunia’s, a force called “Content” is what fuels life in a Mako Energy-slash-Lifestream kind of way. The majority of that Content is produced by Vtubers, which both here and in real life are “Tube” personalities who use a face-mapped animation tool instead of their real images to create a character that’s somewhere between a social influencer and a pop star.
Needless to say the previous leaders, the “old” media, the “traditional” media (hi, haha… oh no) aren’t thrilled with their dissolving position on the totem pole. So, a renegade group has launched an attack on the Vtuber community, endangering the Content and therefore that world.
So, the goddess of that world (it’s a thing in this series) summons Neptunia and her goddess pals by luring them in with a fake VR game. Neptunia as a comedy series is always at its best whenever it’s creating ridiculous parallels between our technological pop culture and its over the top and pastel-colored anime world.
It’s at its worst when it goes full cheesecake. Virtual Stars is largely the former, and the way it includes real-life Vtubers (although the playable ones are totally fictional) is a big part.
The storytelling is silly, but also comes off as savvy, from people who are in tune with that section of the content culture. One highlight is a personification of Japanese streaming/video platform Niconico that is absolutely hilarious if you’ve ever dealt with that site’s quirks.
There’s a catch, unfortunately. Neptunia Virtual Stars tries some interesting concepts with its gameplay systems, but ultimately isn’t fun to play. From the run and gun, third-person shooter style of the goddesses to the more hack and slashy vibe of the Vtubers, the whole thing feels severely undercooked. There’s a lack of impact to the action that makes it feel slow and tedious.
At first the TPS style seems like it’ll be a blast, with Neptunia and her crew sliding around into dodge rolls and using bespoke weapons with very different properties. But the core loop has you running around generic-looking cyber environments and fighting huge groups of enemies that don’t really acknowledge your shots.
Enemies will just spawn in groups and come at you, and it’s your job to just feed them bullets and move when they get too close or fire back at you. Because the action is so unreactive it’s hard to even tell if your shots are missing or not at times. And because the gunplay is so flimsy, the ADS type function adds a homing property to your bullets.
It feels like the developers knew it was wonky but unfortunately didn’t have time for anything but a workaround.
The more up-close action with the Vtubers isn’t much different. These characters (the first two you meet named Me and You), run together with the game controlling the one you aren’t.
You can swap of course, and each character has a unique style. There’s a little more bang for your buttons here, but that lack of reaction or noticeable hit stun remains. Even special moves just kind of come out and fizzle without much drama.
Early on no matter who you’re playing as, damage is super low. Those early enemies aren’t really a threat, but that “bullets and strafing” loop goes on way too long each encounter. The tedium is just out of control from the jump, and it really puts a damper on the fun storytelling.
Generally I appreciate how unafraid Compile Heart is to mix things up and explore new gameplay concepts. From the outlandish custom combos of Fairy Fencer to the absolutely bonkers shuffleboard combat in Death end re;Quest, I feel like Idea Factory’s output always keeps me on my toes.
Neptunia Virtual Stars is another one of those moments, but it misses the mark it aimed at. I don’t think it’s a total swing and a miss like Super Neptunia RPG was, but that may have made the experience more disappointing considering all the parts I liked.
- Funny, relevant writing
- Tedious gameplay
- Combat feels like paper
- I wish the real life Vtubers were more directly involved
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review